Inside the Ropes: Donald set to start U.S. season in relative quiet

Tom LaMarre, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

When Luke Donald shows up at Riviera Country Club this week, he surely will meet the media, but there won't be any laser light shows a la Rory McIlroy, and the session might not even be standing room only, unlike a typical Tiger Woods press conference.
However, as the 35-year-old Englishman makes his 2013 debut on the PGA Tour in the Northern Trust Open, he'll be more than happy to fly under the radar, with much more attention given to Woods and McIlroy -- the only players ahead of him in the World Golf Rankings.
"Players like Rory and Tiger come around once in a lifetime," Donald said recently. "They have that 'wow' factor, and they have so many fans following them.
"I'm a different type of player, and I certainly understand the frenzy around them."
There won't be any of that his week at Riviera, because McIlroy and Woods won't be there, waiting until next week to play again in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
Donald will share the spotlight at Riviera, one of his favorite courses, with the likes of Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Bubba Watson, Lee Westwood, Dustin Johnson, Webb Simpson, Keegan Bradley, Adam Scott and Matt Kuchar.
"I'm always excited to be at Riviera," said Donald, who spent 55 weeks at No. 1 in the world during the past two years before giving way to McIlroy. "I think it's one of the great classic courses that we play all year, and I just love playing this event.
"It's a great (George C. Thomas) design, too. I enjoy the challenge of working it both ways, and I think it (only has been) changed a little bit over the years.
"I've had some success here."
Donald is playing at Riviera for the 12th consecutive season, and had a terrific three-year run at the course when he tied for third in 2008, tied for sixth the following year and finished solo second, two strokes behind Steve Stricker in 2010.
His cumulative score for those three years was 33 under par, but then he shot 68-79--147 to miss the cut at the course they call Hogan's Alley in 2011. He tied for 56th last year, playing the course in a combined 12 over.
"This course is tough (even) with benign conditions," said Donald, who has claimed three of his five titles on the PGA Tour in the last two seasons.
"I think around the greens is important. These greens are tricky. If you can putt well around here, it's going to help. I mean, the biggest adjustment for me, I practice in South Florida on pretty perfect, smooth Bermuda greens. To come here and play on poa annua, it's a big adjustment. But it's still one of those classic courses that I always look forward to coming to."
When McIlroy switched from Titleist to Nike equipment this season, the press conference in Abu Dhabi last month was viewed by many to be more than a little over the top.
Donald had an announcement recently, too, that he was sticking with Mizuno, which he has played his entire career, and the news barely made a ripple by comparison.
"I like to stick to what I know," said Donald, who looked at other clubs but decided to stay put, in part because he is not required to have 14 Mizuno clubs in his bag. "I've been with them for 10 years, and I've never been one to tinker.
"I would find it hard, unless the contract was substantial, to play all 14 clubs. I would be lying if I said I didn't try other equipment, but I'm still very uncomfortable committing to play all 14 clubs. I like to have flexibility with the driver and the putter."
For the record, all of Donald's wedges and irons are made by Mizuno, but he plays the TaylorMade Rocketballz driver and 3-wood, plus the Odyssey White Hot Tour XG putter. And he's done quite well with them, making a big move in the past few years from being a good player to one on the verge of greatness.
About the only thing missing from his resume is a major championship.
"I feel as if I am playing as well as ever at this stage in my career," said Donald, who two years ago became the first player to win the money titles on both sides of the Atlantic. "Over the next few years, I want to be in a position to win major championships. ...
"Nothing new. I've been trying to win one of those for the last 10 years."
Even with Woods and McIlroy around, who knows, this might be his year.

PGA TOUR: Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif., Thursday through Sunday.
TV: Thursday and Friday, 3-6 p.m. EST on the Golf Channel; Saturday and Sunday, 1-2:30 p.m. EST on the Golf Channel and 3-6 p.m. EST on CBS.
LAST YEAR: Bill Haas stared down major champions Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley, holing a 43-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole to claim his second PGA Tour victory in a span of six official events. He also captured the Tour Championship the previous September to wrap up the FedEx Cup. Haas closed with rounds of 68-68-69 at Riviera and wisely was on the driving range preparing for a possible playoff when Mickelson holed a 25-foot putt to force the playoff. Mickelson's playing partner, Bradley, followed suit from 12 feet, both finishing with even-par 71s. Bradley had the best chance on the first playoff hole, No. 18, where his 15-foot birdie putt nudged the right side of the hole but stayed out, and all three settled for par.

CHAMPIONS TOUR: ACE Group Classic on the Talon Course at Twin Eagles Golf Club in Naples, Fla., Friday through Sunday.
TV: Friday, 6:30-8:30 p.m. EST; Saturday, 6:30-9:30 p.m. EST; and Sunday, 7-9:30 p.m. EST, on the Golf Channel each day.
LAST YEAR: Kenny Perry broke the tournament's 36-hole scoring record and tied another record with his 54-hole total while winning his second Champions Tour title by five strokes over defending champion Bernhard Langer. Perry, who won 14 times on the PGA Tour, opened a three-stroke lead by starting with rounds of 64-62. He extended the lead to seven shots by carding three birdies in his first eight holes of the final round and coasted to victory by shooting 2-under-par 70. Langer carded an eagle on the 17th hole for the third consecutive day and also closed with a 70.

LPGA TOUR: LPGA-ISPS Handa Women's Australia Open at Royal Canberra Golf Club in Yarralumla, Australia, Thursday through Sunday.
TV: Thursday and Friday, 12:30-2:30 p.m. EST; Saturday and Sunday, 3-6 p.m., on the Golf Channel each day.
LAST YEAR: Jessica Korda holed a 25-foot birdie putt on the second hole of a record-tying playoff with five other golfers to claim her first LPGA Tour victory at Royal Melbourne. The 18-year-old Korda, whose father Petr won the Australian Open tennis championship in 1998, took a one-stroke lead into the final round and held the top spot until faltering with bogeys on the 14th, 15th and 16th holes. She needed a birdie on No. 17 to shoot 2-over-par 74 and get into the playoff with Brittany Lincicome, Stacy Lewis, Julieta Granada of Paraguay, and South Koreans Hee Kyung Seo and So Yeon Ryu.

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